Meet Baltimore's newest brewer, Brian Strumke

February 17, 2010|By Rob Kasper

Baltimore has a new beer and a new brewer. Brian Strumke, who started making beer in the kitchen of his East Baltimore home six years ago, was toasted last weekend at Max's Belgian Beer Fest in the Fells Point taphouse with glasses of Stillwater Stateside Saison, a brew he created.

The beer, which he describes as a blend of " the hoppy West Coast IPAs and the dry rustic notes of a Belgium saison," will be available to the sipping public next month in kegs and 750-milliliter bottles in selected area liquor stores and pubs.

An early batch received a warm welcome at the festival, where according to Casey Hard of Max's, 6,000 beer aficionados, some of them repeat customers, sampled more than 128 different styles of Belgian style beers over three days. Hard said the 30 gallons of Strumke's beer "went quickly."

"I love it ," said Volker Stewart, proprietor of the Brewer's Art, as he sampled a glass. " It has a wonderful floral hop nose, and it is balanced."

"It is a little hoppier than normal for a saison," said Les White. White, a resident of Glen Burnie who travels to beer festivals in Denver and London, and said he was impressed with the smoothness of Baltimore's new brew.

I liked it too. Unlike some Belgian brews that border on the fringe of drinkability, this one went down quite easily. It had a delightful citrus flavor, with nary a trace of its alcohol, which was 6.8 percent by volume.

Even John Strumke, Brian's dad, an admitted "pilsener person who has had my share of Natty Boh," found his son's beer "easygoing."

Baltimore's new professional brewer spent much of last weekend at the beer festival, surrounded by well-wishers and amazed that friends were paying $5 for a glass of his beer. "It is dream come true for any home-brewer," Strumke said. .

During an interview, Strumke, 33, told me he was drawn to beer-making when his work as a producer and disc jockey of techno music events in Europe began to slow down. "I started getting really bored," he said. "I was used to traveling in Europe and playing music. I needed a creative outlet."

A native of East Baltimore, he grew up in the shadow of the old National Brewing Co. on Conkling Street. He graduated from Archbishop Curley High School, and over the years has taken classes at Dundalk and Essex community colleges, and John Hopkins, where he now works as an information technology staffer. But college, he said, did not suit him, and when his music career slacked off, he " took stock of my life ... looking for something I could put my energy in."

He borrowed a home-brewing kit from his friend, Graham Bouton. He got help from local home-brewing groups such as the Chesapeake Real Ale Brewers Society and the Cross Street Irregulars.

He entered a couple of his home-brews, a dark Belgian with molasses and ginger and a Cabernet Sauvignon lambic, in competitions sponsored by the American Homebrewers Association and the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston. He won ribbons and a free trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

One night in Baltimore, he persuaded Brian Ewing , a representative of 12 Percent Imports, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based distributor, to taste his beers. Ewing liked what he tasted. Strumke worked a deal with DOG Brewing Company in Westminster to lease him some time in the brewery. Lately, he has been rising at 5 in morning and driving to Westminster to check his beer. Then he jumps back on Interstate 795, circles the Beltway and rolls down the JFX to the Hopkins campus.

Strumke, who sees his brewing efforts "as much as an artistic endeavor as a business," wants to brew with fruit and wine grapes.

Or, as he puts it, "weird beers will come later."

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